This one was a true challenge for me. But before I start complaining, I must tell you – honey pie might be one of my all-time favourites! Unfortunately for my inner epicurean, but luckily for my fatpants, I make it very rarely. Like, I think two whole years went by that I didn’t make honey pie. Why is that? Well, to be honest, even though this recipe has the word “pie” in it, it is far more than that. It contains four thin layers of pastry holding three thin layers of filling.
The thing is – this pie will keep you pretty engaged. Rolling all four layers is not the easiest thing to do. Since pastries containing honey puff up as they bake, you are basically facing the task of rolling out a very small amount of dough into a pretty large format. It should be very very thin before it goes to the oven and it should be shaped as best possible into a rectangle so you don’t have too many scrapes afterwards.
If you are used to making cakes like this and get perfectly thin layers in a matter of minutes, I both admire and envy your superhuman skills. However, I must be honest and confess that this is pretty challenging for me, but I promise, it will be so worth it. Because oh my, the flavour!
Pastry is made with honey and scented with cinnamon (duh!). Have you ever baked pastries like this, containing honey? They are sooo smooth, elastic, chewy and soft. It is nothing like a crispy pie crust that comes in mind when pie is mentioned. Quite the opposite. These layers remain so soft they melt in your mouth. Honey gives them this perfect texture and makes them perfectly sweet, and then, as you eat, cinnamon comes through and suddenly, I promise you, it tastes like Christmas and like cold winter night spent in front of the fireplace.
And I am just getting you warmed up because I said nothing about the filling yet. Filling is creamy milky buttery goodness sweetened with vanilla sugar. It is very light as it doesn’t contain egg yolks. The flavour is so subtle and gentle, yet so light and velvety. Warm, but refreshing somehow. Mild, but full of flavour. Soft and elegant (are those flavours?).
The big finish needs just a light dusting of icing sugar – no chocolate glaze please, because it would be too much for the cake, it would make it heavy and steal the attention from the lightness of taste. A gentle sprinkle and that is it – nothing more, nothing less, you are about to taste perfection.
Anyway, having decided to make the honey pie this winter, I also decided to put an extra effort and give you really detailed instructions. Which means I actually weighed portions of my dough and filling and was accurate by the gram, I used a ruler to get the crusts to the right dimension and I once again used the ruler to cut them perfectly. All will be written down in the recipe instructions, but I have also included some extra tips. For those of you who are familiar with these kinds of cakes, rush over to the recipe.
Tips and suggestions:
a) Rolling out the layers actually took me longer than the baking itself, so I suggest rolling them all beforehand and then baking one by one. Since they only bake for about 6 minutes, you definitely don’t want to risk overbaking them as you twitch over a rolling pin trying to form the dough into a perfect shape. The key for the success of this cake is for the pastry layers to remain soft. Overbaking them might ruin that.
b) Precision is also very important. Rolling the dough into same proportions will give you least scraps afterwards, which means more cake to serve and eat. Also, (and that is just aesthetic-wise), you want the layers to be of the same thickness. So I suggest using a kitchen scale to weigh the dough into 4 equal portions. My dough weighed 830 g in total, which means that I divided it into four portions of 208 grams and rolled out each one to a rectangle 20 by 28 cm (7,9 by 11 in).
c) I did the same thing with the filling. Except, the filling is portioned into three equal parts. My filling weighed 735 g in total, which means three portions od 245 g.
d) Also, prepare 7-8 layers of parchment paper. Since the dough should be rolled out thinly, and honey makes it sticky, rolling it between two pieces of parchment paper will save your life. Or nerves at least. Form each portion of dough into a cube, place it between two sheets of parchment paper and start rolling. As you roll out the dough, first roll it out as thinly as possible, then measure to see if it is the right dimension. Cut the parts that are sticking out and glue them to the gaps that are missing the dough. Then just reroll everything once more to smooth it out and get an even layer of dough. If you can’t roll the dough into given dimensions, that’s perfectly fine, roll it out into a rectangle as best as you can and just try to make them all the same.
e) Once you are happy with the shape and the size, transfer layers of dough to a baking tray and bake one by one. Keep an eye on them often, as they take a short time to bake. They will just about start to get brown on top, but should stay soft and elastic. Also, they will be dry when you touch them and should be able to detach from the parchment paper easily – that’s how you know they are done. Transfer them to a flat surface, but leave them on the parchment paper they baked on. Cover each baked layer with a parchment paper to keep them separated and stack them on top of each other. Then cover them with a large flat heavy object, such as a large baking tray or a cutting board. That will keep them flat.
f) I suggest baking and assembling the cake on a baking pan larger than the dimensions it was rolled out to because it will be easier to handle afterwards.
g) After the pie is filled and assembled, cover the top again with a piece of parchment paper and weigh it with a tray or a board to help merge all the layers and keep them thin and flat. Let everything set for at least overnight because the pastry layers need some time to absorb some moisture and really stick to the filling.
Ingredients for the pie crust:
80 g unsalted butter
80 g brown sugar
80 g honey
50 ml milk
430 g all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda (not baking powder)
1 large egg
Ingredients for the filling:
500 ml milk
5 Tbsp vanilla sugar*
5 Tbsp cornstarch
250 g unsalted butter, cold
Icing sugar for dusting
1 . Start by making the filling because it needs to cool completely before assembling the cake. Pour 400 ml of milk into a skillet and place it over medium low heat. Add sugar, stir shortly and let it come to a simmer. In the meantime, in a separate bowl (or a measuring cup), mix the remaining 100 ml of milk with cornstarch. Whisk the cornstarch well so there are no lumps.
2. When the milk in theskillet has come to a simmer, slowly, while whisking, add the mixture of milk and cornstarch. Whisking all the time, let it thicken by cooking it for about 5 to 6 minutes on medium heat. It should reach the consistency of a cooked pudding. Set aside to cool completely.
3. Start preparing the dough. Place a small skillet over medium low heat and add butter, sugar, honey and milk. Let everything melt and come to a gentle simmer, but it does not have to boil.
4. In the meantime, sift flour and cinnamon into a large bowl. Make a well and add hot mixture from the step above. Sprinkle baking soda on top of it and leave it for a minute to foam. Using an electric mixer with a paddle attachment or swirls, start mixing the dough. Once the mixture is cool enough to touch it, add a whole egg and continue to mix (feel free to switch to your hands) until a ball of dough forms that is slightly tacky, but detaches from the sides of the bowl.
5. Divide the dough into 4 equal portions and roll each one into a rectangle 20 by 28 cm (7,9 by 11 in). While rolling, preheat the oven to 160°C/320 F. Bake one layer at a time for about 6 minutes, but check them after 5 minutes to see how fast they progress. They should just start to develop some colour and should be firm and springy to touch, but remain soft and elastic. Transfer baked layers on top of each other separating them with a parchment paper so they don’t stick. Cover them with a large flat object to keep the layers flat. Let them cool for about half an hour.
6. In the meantime, finish the filling. Using an electric mixer, mix the filling once again to make sure there are no lumps. Cut butter in chunks. It does not have to be super cold, but should not be soft at room temperature either. If you can make a dent by sticking your finger into it, it is perfect. While mixing the filling, gradually add chunks of butter and mix everything until there are no visible pieces of butter left and there are no lumps. Divide the filling equally into three bowls.
7. Now it is time to assemble the cake. Place first layer of pastry on a serving plate or any other large flat base that can fit inside your refrigerator. Cover with the first portion of filling and distribute it evenly with a spatula. Add second layer of pastry and continue alternating pastry and filling finishing with the pastry layer. Cover with a parchment paper and weigh it down with another baking tray to keep the layers flat. Transfer to the fridge and let the pie set overnight or up to a day even.
8 . Once it is set completely, dust with some icing sugar and cut into pieces. Enjoy with a glass of cold milk or eggnog.